1976 state papers: The SAS and the SRU

The Sunday Business Post has a good series of articles on the 1976 state papers by Rory Rapple. One particularly interesting piece concerns the official deployment of the SAS to Northern Ireland, and the relationship between the SAS and the Special Reconnaissance Unit.

Mason also consulted prime minister Callaghan over
the recruitment of troops for a plain clothes Special Reconnaissance
Unit (SRU) which, according to his top secret letter dated September 8,
had been operating in Northern Ireland since at least March 1974. Mason
wanted Callaghan to drop the ban which had previously prevented ex-SAS
members joining the SRU until they had been out of the regiment for at
least two years.

The SRU’s role, according to Mason, was
‘‘surveillance of both republican and Protestant extremists’’, an area
in which it had amassed ‘‘much exceptionally valuable intelligence’’.

members of the SRU were actually used to infiltrate paramilitary
organisations is not explicitly stated, but what is certain from
Mason’s note is that the force was always trained by the SAS.

Correspondence on this issue also indicates that the SAS had been in the North for a lengthy period before January 1976. (Sunday Business Post)

My own piece on the SRU, which appeared in the now-defunct Daily Ireland last year, sheds some light on this earlier SAS presence:

The newly-discovered files show that the Northern Ireland Office (NIO)
and the Ministry of Defence were tasked to produce a briefing on the
SAS ahead of Wilson’s meeting with Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave on April 5,
They produced a document entitled Army Plain Clothes Patrols
in Northern Ireland, together with a copy of a statement that had been
delivered to the Irish government.
The statement to the Irish said: “The facts are as follows. No SAS unit has been or is stationed in Northern Ireland.”
added that the policy had been not to use former SAS personnel on
plain-clothes duties until two or three years after their service with
the regiment had ended, but that in the past three months “use has been
made of a number of volunteers, whose experience has been acquired only
just beforehand.”
The full extent of the SAS role is only revealed
in the briefing itself which states: “Men who have served with the SAS
are serving in the SRU [Special Reconnaissance Unit] but no SAS units
are operating in Northern Ireland.
“One officer and 30 soldiers
serving with the SRU since early January are due to resume service with
22 SAS by April 7. Their presence with the SRU went undetected until
the Robert Fisk article in The Times on 19 March.” (Irish were lied to about SAS)

I had a chance to look at the newly released files on the SRU and the SAS myself at the National Archives on Friday. One significant revelation is that the Irish Government asked for information about the types of weapons to be used by the SAS.

An early draft response stated: "You may be interested to learn that all the weapons which the SAS are taking to Northern Ireland are being ballistically tested by the police so that ‘violent and unexplained incidents’ cannot unjustifiably be blamed on the SAS."

However, this sentence was immediately removed because of ‘the difficulties we might store up for ourselves with Dublin.’

A later draft stated that "If there were specific allegations of SAS responsibility for a particular violent incident, we would be prepared to examine against our records any ballistic or other evidence which the Irish might provide."




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